The Build-Up From Stadio Olimpico: Italy vs Wales-Euro 2020
Not so long ago, many would have guessed a major sporting event played between Italy vs Wales would have been played with an oval ball, certainly many would have said that for Wales to beat an Italian team it would need to be Rugby and not Football. But the last few years have propelled Wales into the European football stage, they’ve shown that they’re not just there to make up the numbers and today was an opportunity to prove that further. Although the Italian National Team has a rich history, they have had a tumultuous few years, having been knocked out in the Quarter-Final stage of Euro 2016, they missed out on a place in the 2018 World Cup. But their fortunes have changed under Roberto Mancini, they entered this Euro on a twenty-seven match unbeaten run. Having both failed to qualify for the last World Cup but both being in decent form, the expectations going into this tournament were tempered for both; but the first two games for both sets of teams have done plenty to raise the hopes in both nations.
With Italy already qualified and Wales looking likely but not confirmed to do the same, there was speculation that there would be changes for both teams. Italy were true to the speculation, making eight changes, with Donnarrumma, Jorginho & Bonucci keeping their place in the team. Wales made three changes with Mepham, Davies & target man Kieffer Moore making way. Significantly, the players that were omitted from the Welsh team are those that would have been suspended if they were booked in today’s contest; showing us Page’s confidence of progression to the next round. For Italy, all changes were like-for-like, with Mancini’s men playing the same shape and style. But for Wales, the changes prompted a change of shape, going with Ramsey in a false nine role and a back three. Those changes did little to sway the pre-match view, the Italians went into this one favourites, the permutations for these two teams were simple, the winner takes the group. Of course, Wales could slip out of the automatic qualification places, but only if they faced defeat and the Swiss won with five-goal swing.
The Italians have been lauded for some of the free-flowing football they’ve played, but in the opening stages of this game, they showed they were up for the fight too. In the early exchanges of this one, there were considerably more fouls than sightings at goal, unsurprising given the passion both of these teams are known for. But The Azzurri slowly started to turn their possession into shots at goal, Emerson being the first to test the Wales keeper in the 16th minute. The Welsh keeper was in action again just minutes after, when an effort hit into Belotti’s shins headed toward the centre of goal. These half-chances seemed to wake the Wales team from their slumber, they started to pick the ball up more and hold onto it, the jeers and whistles rang around the Olimpico every time a red shirt was on the ball. The game was more end to end after those first 20 minutes, with Belotti having a chance that he dragged wide and the experienced Chris Gunter directing a header just over the bar. The Italians reasserted their dominance quickly though and it was a clever free-kick, from the returning Veratti, that broke the deadlock, his low free-kick was directed goalward by midfielder, Matteo Pessina in the thirty-ninth minute.
The Italians looked the most dangerous of the two teams in the first half, with the Italian press causing the Welsh midfield a lot of problems, any Welsh procrastination on the ball was being punished. The Azzurri failed to capitalise on any of the territory they won in open play, though Ciro Immobile’s clinical presence was missed up-front. There was a lull in the intensity halfway through the first half, but the goal seemed to re-invigorate the Italian team and a flurry of chances for the blues would have sent the Welsh into half-time worrying about what they might face in the second half. The Welsh would have likely seen that Switzerland were winning their game against Turkey by two goals to nil, which may have turned the pressure dial up even more for the reds. A further two goals for Italy or Switzerland would mean facing a nervous wait for confirmation of their place in the Round of 16.
Italy made the only change at the break, with one of the three surviving members from the second group game, with Bonucci making way for Acerbi. It was another free-kick that got Welsh nerves jangling early on, Bernadeschi hitting the post from some distance. Ramsey had a great chance just moments after, as a clipped ball over the top got him into the box and ahead of play, but he was too wide and too indecisive to punish the Italian defence. Ethan Ampadu was punished, however, when a rash challenge with studs showing resulted in a straight red in the 55th minute. The Wales manager reacted quickly to this and instead of shrinking away with a defensive substitution, he sacrificed midfielder Morrlle for the popular forward Kieffer Moore. This change did little to turn the tide though. Danny Ward made an important save from Belotti, just before Ramsey made a brave block to prevent the Italians in the 65th minute. The Welsh skipper had Wales’ best chance of the game in the 75th minute, but he was leaning back and swung the ball over with his favoured left foot. A triple substitution entering the final five minutes showed that Wales were looking to consolidate rather than equalise, probably with one eye on the game in Baku.
The Italians were in cruise control for the majority of the half, conserving energy and keeping possession. Wales didn’t have a dominant spell in the second half, they’ll be cursing the red card and wondering whether they could have sustained more pressure on the Italian defence had they had the eleventh man in those latter stages. All remaining Wales players were camped in their own half during added time, showing that they knew their hard work in Baku was enough to see them through.
Reaction from Rome.
Having already qualified, The Azzurri used this game to look at the different members of their squad, with Roberto Mancini showing his commitment to the rotation when he subbed goalkeeper Donnarumma for the veteran Sirigu. The Azzuri will be happy to take a 100% record to the knock-out stages, extend their unbeaten run, and make it eleven games without conceding a goal. The Welsh team won’t be too down about losing to an Italian team in Rome, even less so considering they played a third of the game with one less man. The Red Dragons will be happy to secure second place and enter the knockouts with no injuries and no suspensions for key players. Italy head to Wembley for the round of sixteen with Wales heading to Amsterdam, their respective opponents will be decided this week.
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